Album Review: Queens of the Stone Age – Villians

Josh Homme and his longstanding band Queens of the Stone Age returned with Villians at a time when the world needed more from one of the music scene’s guitar gods. Villians picks up where their last effort left off – long, dark, heavy riff-driven songs swimming in the depths of Homme’s mind. 
Homme spent his time in between QOTSA albums working with punk and rock legend Iggy Pop on his album Post Pop Depression, and Iggy Pop’s influence is heard throughout Villians. The two worked well together, and seemingly enjoyed working with one another despite the lack of Iggy’s presence on the latest Queens’ album.

Villians could easily be the follow up to PPD or My God is the Sun, and serves as a great addition to Homme’s vast career discography. It situates itself well in the dark void of guitar rock or prog rock where QOTSA wade around just below the surface and stretch deep enough to the blackest depths. Realistically it could fit anywhere in Queens’ discography, as we’re seeing a band who has already found themselves and rarely veers away from their signature sound.

Villians sees Queens work with prominent pop producer Mark Ronson for the first time. The effect of Ronson is scarcely seen, though certain moments on the album find frontman Josh Homme unhinged and dropping his guard – something Homme doesn’t do often. Regardless, you aren’t going to get blood from a stone, and you aren’t going to get Bruno Mars from Queens of the Stone Age.

Homme knows his place in rock and roll, whether or not millennials are listening to his records or Twenty-One  Pilots. “Save me from the Villians of circumstance before I lose my place,” he croons on aptly named “Villains of Circumstance”.  

There are hints of Led Zeppelin and the Ramones traced through the nine tracks. While some places have a clear lack of energy, some songs play at a quicker pace and sound like they could fit in any alternative rock block. “Head Like a Haunted House” begins sounding almost like the opening theme to Ed, Edd n Eddy and the closing riff comes across like a little sister to “Little Sister”. Many other songs sound similar to other older releases by the group. 

The album is more haunting than any of Queens’ previous releases by far. Especially closer “Villians of Circumstance”, which finds Homme questioning his place in the world using binaries, going back and forth between being unsure and entirely certain. Age has gifted Homme with wisdom as he has  grown lyrically. He sounds downtrodden on much of the album, as his deep croon usually does, but this time with a more immediate purpose. 

The album’s opener, “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” begins slowly with a minute of build up before a Robo trip enducing riff breaks the song wide open. The lyrics in the bridge perhaps describe Homme more accurately than anything else he’s written before. “One foot in the gutter, one in the clouds,” he ominously sings over heavy, bouncing riffs. 

“Domesticated Animals” is the closest Villians comes to social commentary, calling out humanity for their own calls for revolution that never comes. Lyrics like “So tell us where’s the goddamn gold,” and the ever-present question of “Where’s your revolution now,” show the singer’s discontentment rising. 

Homme also shows vulnerability like rarely before on Villians. On “Fortress” the band’s frontman is found remembering how everyone in life faces problems, often alone. His stoic conclusion being that you will never know how strong you are until you face disappointment on your own and come out the other side. 

It’s hard to remember this is the same band whose first big hit came in the form of “The Feel Good Hit of the Summer” where Homme just repeated the names of drugs and pills for about three minutes over a driving riff. Their song structure has come to be more diverse than they had been on some of their most popular releases. Villians finds them rocking back and forth between slow, brooding dark rock and quick, dance hall ready tunes like “The Way You Used to Do.” 
This album is one of QOTSA’s most diverse of their career despite only being nine tracks long. In past efforts, it felt like the band was trying to do too much and spread themselves too thin; and on this album, brevity works in the band’s favor. 

Image courtesy of Paste Magazine.